The country’s top surfski paddlers converge on the Western Cape this weekend for a double-race programme that will decided the national single and double ski titles on consecutive days with doubles on Saturday and singles on Sunday.
The double ski title decider will be staged in conjunction with the record-breaking Freedom Paddle on Saturday, a 27 kilometre race from the V&A Waterfront around Robben Island and back, while the single ski titles will be presented after a race at the Strand on Sunday.
Last year Hank McGregor teamed up with his friend and marathon world championship winning partner Andy Birkett to win the SA S2 title at the Pete Marlin surfski race in the Eastern Cape but had to settle for second behind Jasper Mocké in the singles title showdown the day before.
The Euro Steel/Fenn Kayaks pairing have enjoyed massive success together, including a 2018 FNB Dusi K2 title, and despite the fact that they have been separated since Birkett relocated to East London, McGregor is confident that they will be a force to be reckoned with.
“I would love to do the double again!” gushed McGregor. “Winning any SA surfski title is one of the hardest in the world to win, and it looks like both the singles and doubles races will have a lot of very, very strong paddlers entered.”
McGregor highlighted the strength of the Western Cape locals, including defending champs at the Freedom Paddle Jasper Mocké and Nick Notten, and also flagged Matt Bouman and Phillip Smith as a crew to watch.
Mocké and Notten will be a tough nut to crack and with the tag of defending champions they will be that much more difficult to beat.
With that said Mocké has taken some time away from paddling but has hit the ground running preparing for the national championship weekend.
“I took two months away from paddling to get some perspective and I am back feeling energised and looking forward to the doubles champs,” the surfski ace said.
“It is a challenging course and the field is going to be strong, it will be an exciting race.”
On Sunday the single ski national titles will be decided at a stand-alone race based at the Strand in Gordons Bay, a move that McGregor supports.
“Look, if we were racing the Fish Hoek locals over a Millers Run course, they would have a huge advantage because they paddle that section all the time.
“But the Strand course will be basically new for all of us, which makes it fair for a national title decider,” he pointed out.
When talking about the singles title on Sunday, Mocké was on the fence about his participation but feels that it is a course that he is more familiar with than most.
“I have spent quite a bit of time paddling there so I am giving it some thought but I am keeping my options open.
“It could be a serious slog so it will be a tough race,” he added.
Several elite paddlers look to be targeting the single ski race on the Sunday as a priority, as they have opted out of the Freedom Paddle title scrap on Saturday to conserve their energy for the Strand race.
The women’s field for both races will be slightly smaller but certainly not lacking in quality, front by the reigning world champion Hayley Nixon (Shaw & Partners/Euro Steel/ Carbonology).
She has opted to race the doubles title decider at the Freedom Paddle with Michelle Burn, while her partner to victory last year Sabina Lawrie has responded by signing up the London Olympics bronze medallist sprinter Bridgette Hartley as her partner.
Seasoned surfski racer Bianca Beavitt will front the local challenge on the weekend, teaming up with Melanie van Niekerk for the Freedom Paddle.